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Video Game / The Last Express

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On July 24, 1914, The Orient Express sits in the Gare de l'Est, in Paris, bound for Constantinople. A worried American looks out the door of the train car as it begins to pull out of the station. With a look of disappointment, he returns to the car. As the train speeds through a French field, a motorcycle pulls alongside it in its travel. The passenger stands up on the motorcycle. Grasping at the rails, he makes a leap across to the door of the train, landing with a hard thud, adjusting his coat and casually stepping inside. You are Robert Cath, wanted all across Europe. You have just boarded the Last Express.

The Last Express was a 1997 Adventure Game by Smoking Car Productions, set on the Orient Express at the eve of World War I. It was unique at the time for its art style, based on the "Art Nouveau" popular in 1914, and done by Rotoscoping live actors. It was also among the first games to have a non-linear story and NPCs acting in real time without player input.

Its publishing was marred by Brøderbund Software's entire marketing department quitting just weeks before release, which resulted in absolutely no advertising for it. While critically acclaimed, it was one of the biggest flops in gaming history. Thankfully, Interplay Entertainment obtained the rights to the game and started re-doing it.

One of the creators (Jordan Mechner) edited all the significant events together into a movie, which can be watched at his site. The game itself has been rereleased as a Digital Download Collector's Edition. It is also available on, Steam, iOS, and Android. A screenplay for a proposed film adaptation is available to read here.

This game provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Anna, in the second half of the game. She pulls her gun on just about every named character left on the train car.
  • Artistic License: In reality, the Orient Express would have been pulled by different locomotives for each country given the railway system and the production team acknowledges this. Ironically, there appear to be two locomotives represented to be the same one; in the computer generated and static art backgrounds, the engine is a 4-4-0 Belgian Dunalastair, which pulled trains like to Oostende-Wein Express, while the rotoscoped scenes which use a model train depict the locomotive as something of a custom made model with a Stephenson valve gear, a large boiler, a short funnel and a smokebox door.
    • The station at Budapest featured in the game is depicted with railway lines going through instead of terminating like the Keleti, Nyugati and Déli stations in real life.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: The Persian eunuch shouts at you in Arabic instead of Farsi. This is especially bizarre given that every character other than him speaks their native language perfectly.
  • All There in the Manual: The story works just fine if you don't check, but the official website and the official strategy guide have a bit of background on the characters. Playing the game without these just dips you in headfirst.
  • Badass Bookworm: Robert Cath; medical doctor, speaks at least four languages, currently pursuing an interest in classical Byzantine literature... and throws a hell of a punch.
  • Batman Gambit: Herr Schmidt's arms deal was arranged only so it could be thwarted by Anna and give the Austrians and Germans an excuse to go to war with Serbia. Canonically, the deal falls through anyway, and Cath revealing the plan to Schmidt causes him a rather poignant moment of shock.
  • Big "NO!": When you blow the whistle at the end, Kronos loses it.
  • Bilingual Backfire: A key plot element. The train has English, French, German, Russian, Serbo-Croatian and Arabic passengers. Cath is American, but speaks English, French, German and Russian, enabling him to eavesdrop as he pleases. The only one on the train who doesn't assume he is monolingual is the little kid running around who speaks in French.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Although French, German and Russian dialogue has subtitles, there are none for Serbo-Croatian or Arabic, neither of which Cath knows. Also, although Cath can speak Russian, he apparently cannot read Cyrillic script and needs one of the Russian-speakers to translate the Firebird fairytale for him.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: Cath can speak four languages, and the languages he understands are subtitled. Those he doesn't understand are still spoken correctly, but have no subtitles.
  • Blood-Splattered Innocents: Cath and Tatiana. In the first case Cath is innocent in the legal sense; though he must pick up and move Tyler's body, staining his jacket with blood, he did not kill Tyler. In the second case Tatiana is innocent in every sense, wearing a bloody hand-print from a dying man for almost two days, which does not bode well for her sanity.
  • Bittersweet Ending: While Robert Cath does manage to stop Kronos and Kahina's plans in the true ending and he saves most of the passengers from Serbian hijackers, Tatiana ends up blowing herself and the entire locomotive up near Istanbul in a vain attempt to stop a World War, Robert and Anna are forced to temporarily part ways due to the outbreak of World War I, and the explanation of Tyler's death leaves something to be desired. Not to mention, several passengers and main characters end up dying over the course of the journey.
  • Bluffing the Murderer: George Abbott knows Cath is the wanted American and Alexei is an anarchist radical, but he's not sure which person is the bigger threat. If you talk with him, he casually mentions and notices many suspicious details about Cath, and he talks to Alexei later in a manner that offends his anarchist sensibilities, confirming both his suspicions when they quickly excuse themselves from the conversation.
  • Bound and Gagged: Robert and Anna after the Serbs take over the train.
  • Break the Cutie: Tatiana. Her grandfather is a Czarist and her lover is an anarchist bomber and say it only gets worse from there.
  • But Now I Must Go: Just after Anna and Cath save each other and there is a bit of romance, Anna unfortunately has to leave the train. The game is scripted so that it will always arrive just after the fight sequence.
  • Cassandra Truth: Nobody believes François when he says he saw a body being thrown out the window. Even though that's exactly what you did. Even after the police find a body on the tracks and board the train to investigate, they still won't believe him.
  • Chekhov's Gun: When the game opens, Cath finds Tyler dead. His body is covered with bloody cuts and claw marks, and the explanation for how this happened, who killed him, and why isn't explained until the very end of the game. It's the Firebird. The thing is secretly an attack drone, and it was sicced on Tyler to kill him. When Cath activates it right at the end of the game, the way the Firebird kills Kronos and Kahina has Cath quietly reference Tyler, explaining what killed him.
  • Controllable Helplessness:
    • Cath gets knocked out and tied up by Slav militants. After waking up, you can do nothing but fidget around until the book of matches falls out of his pocket, enabling him to burn through his bonds.
    • The first two fight scenes prevent Cath from fighting back. The only way to win the first fight is to keep dodging until Cath grabs his assailant's arm and twists their weapon away. The second fight is just dodging until someone intervenes.
  • Cultured Badass: Cath is a Cunning Linguist and a medical doctor, while Anna is a masterful violinist. Also, Kronos plays the piano with Anna in a duet.
  • Dead Man's Chest: One of the ways to stop anyone from finding the body of Tyler is to stash it in your bed.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Robert Cath, the protagonist, impersonates his friend, Tyler Whitney.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Robert Cath has his moments.
    Milos: Have you heard of "Unity or Death"?
    Cath: Sure, that's Harvard's motto. Or is it the post office...?
  • Developer's Foresight:
    • At one point, Cath must steal the Firebird egg for Kronos, while also stealing a briefcase full of money from Kronos to show to August Schmidt. While you can lose the spoilered item, have it stolen back, give it to Kronos, or never find it at all, the game takes into account whether or not you also stole the briefcase if Kronos gets the item, and reacts accordingly. What makes this more impressive is that Kronos getting his hands on the item results in a Non-Standard Game Over, meaning they thought of all of this for a path that leads to a bad ending.
    • Meeting August Schmidt for the first time is a scripted event that has to take place. You have to go out of your way to avoid him, but eventually, you'll have no choice but to talk to him, making part of the deal with him about his merchandise.
    • If you hide Tyler's body in the bed, then take it out and put it back on the floor before Milos enters your compartment (which you have no reason to do), you get a unique game over where Milos pulls the emergency brake upon discovering Tyler's body.
  • Driven to Suicide: Tatiana blows herself up with August's guns to prevent anyone else from getting their hands on them and starting a war. Unfortunately, news breaks out of Austria declaring war upon Serbia the moment the Orient Express arrives in Istanbul, so her sacrifice was ultimately in vain.
  • Duel Boss: All of the games fight scenes are one-on-one, Cath vs. a member of the four Serbian nationalists. Notably, Cath is unarmed in all but the last of these fights, and the weapon he uses there is only obtained from the previous boss after Cath throws the guy off the top of the train.
  • The Edwardian Era: Deconstructed. The era's elegance, glamor, wit and technological optimism are all aboard the Orient Express just as advertised, but it just as carefully details the centuries-old schisms, tension, machinations, and grudges that resulted in World War I.
  • Egg MacGuffin: Tyler Whitney got mixed up in a deal where he planned to sell a golden jeweled egg called the Firebird for money and then using that money to give weapons to Serbian separatists. Unfortunately, that egg was stolen around the time he was murdered. Since you are impersonating Tyler, you need to find the egg and make the two deals go through in order to prevent Tyler's creditors from dishing out consequences. And as it turns out, the egg, which can turn into a sentient mechanical automaton of a bird, is what killed Tyler, answering the big mystery of the game.
  • Empty Room Psych: Some of the passenger compartments have (at times) nothing important or plot related in them, but you'll be so happy you managed to sneak past the conductors, you'll look everywhere before leaving.
  • Event-Driven Clock:
    • It's (in)famous for being one of the few Adventure Games that take place entirely in real-time. From the moment you get onto that express and until you either get off or die, the time keeps ticking. If you aren't in the right spot at the right time, it's over, your train is gone.
    • It's not exactly real-time. Time runs about 5 minutes in-game time to every 1 minute of real-time, and there are time skips(such as when you sleep). Furthermore, you can't accelerate time, but if you miss a key event, you can rewind the clock to an earlier point, at the cost of not being able to undo the time reversal after about 30 seconds.
  • Everybody Smokes: As fitting for the time period. Even Cath, who's supposed to be a doctor, smokes regularly.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The whole story takes place in just under four days, starting in the evening of July 24th, 1914, and ending in the early morning of July 28th.
  • Foregone Conclusion: By the time Robert Cath boards the Orient Express, it's too late to prevent World War I. It's all a matter of being in the right place when it begins and solving the mystery of Tyler Whitney's murder.
  • Gameplay and Story Integration: French, German and Russian dialogue all have English subtitles. There are no subtitles for Serbo-Croatian and Arabic because Cath doesn't speak those languages.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Anna first appears wearing one, and Sophie and Rebecca sport one as well.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: The creators were going for this, as touched on in the "making of" video. Cath, for instance, is not a bad guy, but he's not exactly ethical, either, and he is not afraid to use underhanded tactics, steal certain objects, and even break into other people's compartments and throw corpses out of the train to unravel mysteries.
  • Happy Fun Ball: The Firebird can turn into a mechanical bird automaton. It's what ended up killing Tyler, and what also kills Kronos and Kahina in the game's true ending.
  • Hide Your Lesbians: If you read Rebecca's diary and listen to her and Sophie's conversations, it's clear that they're involved in a lesbian relationship, and the purpose of their travel is to go to a secluded island together. But then Sophie makes it clear in one conversation that she intends to get married (to a man) one day, and advises Rebecca to do the same before her beauty fades. Rebecca does not like this idea.
  • Just Eat Gilligan: Averted. When Cath finds Tyler dead at the beginning of the game, just pulling the emergency stop levers on the train isn't an option for Cath because he's a wanted fugitive across Western Europe, and any authorities meeting Cath will get him arrested on the spot.
  • Just Train Wrong: The locomotive changes between the rotoscoped and static images during the cutscenes.
  • Lady of War: Anna and Vesna, both of whom pull a gun and a knife on Cath.
  • The Last Title: The game takes place in 1914 on the last Orient Express to run before World War I broke out. It would not run again until 1932... which results in a Bittersweet Ending, as Anna, thinking the war would only last a month, promised to come find Robert on "the first Orient Express that runs after the war."
    • In reality, the Express did run again after the war in 1918.
  • Late to the Tragedy: The game quickly becomes this both in-game and out as the player is given little introduction to the protagonist (if you didn't think to check the web site or the official strategy guide, the entirety of his backstory and motivations must be puzzled out through dialogue and in-game documents). Cath himself has practically no information about what he agreed to help Tyler accomplish, and spends the first half of the game bluffing that he does.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Sophie and Rebecca, an English girl and a French girl, who have to hide the fact that they're lovers. They don't factor much into the plot, but it's pretty clear once you're looking.
  • Low Clearance: Near the end of the game, if he doesn't hit the deck when Vesna does, Cath smacks into the top of a train tunnel.
  • MacGuffin: The gold, the guns, and the Firebird. All of it plays into the tensions on the train; most of the main characters onboard want at least one of those things.
  • The Many Deaths of You: Several. Most of them where Cath actually dies involved being stabbed. But, Cath can also get arrested, blown up, shot, hit with an iron bracelet, and walk off with a briefcase full of gold coins but no closure.
  • Multiple Endings: Mostly dying or being arrested, but the player can also escape the train with a lot of money but a lot of unanswered questions. Or, set off an international incident (but you get a medal for it).
  • Mysterious Past: Just why does Robert want to go to Constantinople so badly, anyway? (The answer: he's a wanted man in more or less the entire Western world, and Tyler offered him a ticket out. Also, it's on the way to Jerusalem.)
    • Cath says the whole freedom-fighting and arms-dealing things were more Tyler's areas, but he was allegedly hanging out with the Irish independence movement just before the game begins. It's also not clear where Cath picked up the knowledge of herbal medicine (with Datura stramonium) or what appears to be a hypnotic ability he uses a few times, including on the Firebird itself.
    • Kronos is also particularly mysterious. His descent and what title he has to be addressed as "His Excellency" is unclear, along with how he knows what's really going on in general, including knowing Cath's name and that he's masquerading as Tyler from the outset, or why he wants anything to do with the Firebird.
  • Noodle Incident: "Still angry about Cuba." Anna does bring it up when she is introduced to him by August, but Cath deflects it by saying that he was planning to start a revolution in Mexico.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: George Abbot, a bumbling, loquacious British businessman... and spy for the British Empire.
  • Omniglot: Subverted. Cath speaks English, French, a little German, and a little Russian. However, he doesn't speak Serbo-Croatian and Arabic; those lines go untranslated by the game.
  • Orient Express: A fictionalized account of its final run.
  • Police Are Useless: The Orient Express has to leave the station on time. Even when a body was found near the tracks. Even when every passenger on the train has been located except one.
    • Somewhat justified in that the train conductors consider them just small-town cops with nothing better to do than harass them with something that can't possibly be their problem. That said, if the cops do find Cath, they realize he fits the description of a fugitive and arrest him right away.
  • Press X to Die: Pulling the train's emergency brake at any time results in Cath getting arrested. Except after the Serbs hijack the train, when it does nothing since they cut the wires.
  • Press X to Not Die: All the "fights" in the game are basically this, especially the first fight with Vesna, where you can't do anything but dodge until help arrives. Also, the last boss fight, after you've already won, requires you to duck when your opponent does to avoid colliding with the top of a trail tunnel.
  • The Quiet One: Kahina. The only thing she says directly to Cath (besides saying "Pardon me" when passed in the hallways)? "You talk a great deal for a man who knows so little."
  • Real Time: Sped up by a factor of five.
  • Refuge in Audacity: If you want the game to continue beyond Vienna, the correct way to obtain the briefcase is to have Cath drop into Kronos's cabin from above during the concert, steal the briefcase, then walk out holding the briefcase in plain view of everyone. The audience is too focused on Kronos and Miss Wolff to realize what's going on besides a few awkward glances. Kronos and Kahina know exactly what's going on, but are powerless to do anything about it at that time; their concert is part of The Masquerade, and they must keep it going. This only works so long, though; once the circumstances change, Cath has to act quickly with the briefcase and the Firebird to advance the story.
  • Riddle for the Ages:
    • Why exactly is Cath so interested in the manuscript about the Thirteenth Tribe?
    • Could Anna really be a descendant of the woman in the portrait of the Firebird?
    • How did Kronos’ private train reach the Express at the end of the game?
  • Royal Harem: One occupies most of the second sleeping car, protected by a sword-wielding eunuch.
  • Scare Chord: Used when Robert Cath discovers the body of his friend, Tyler Whitney.
  • Sequel Hook: The ending leaves things open-ended as to if Cath will make it to Jerusalem and whether or not he'll ever see Anna again.
  • Shame If Something Happened: After defusing the bomb, Abbott says as much to Cath. While Abbott is willing to let a few things go, seeing as how Cath did just save the lives of the entire train, Abbott also none-too-subtly threatens Cath to work with the British Empire, lest the "official story" of what happened before the game paint Cath in a bad light.
  • Shared Dream: Anna recognizes the tower on Cath’s ring, implying that she had the same dream as Cath before Alexei was killed by the Count. She goes out to think, planning to tell Cath later, but this goes unresolved due to Kronos showing up.
  • Skippable Boss: Thanks to what may or may not be a glitch, every duel that Cath can get into can be skipped by going in and out of the menu; eventually, the boss fight just moves on as if Cath had succeeded.
  • Shout-Out: When commandeering the locomotive, Abbot sings Ruler of the Queen's Navee from H.M.S. Pinafore.
  • Spanner in the Works: A few people on the train are ordinary citizens, some of whom throw the political machinations of multiple governments off-track while having no idea what's actually going on. In particular, one French woman complaining about a dog barking ends up indirectly giving Cath a place to hide the Firebird, allowing him to put a stop to the plans of Kronos and Kahina.
  • Stock Scream: The Wilhelm can be heard when Cath tosses Salko off the top of the train.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Vesna, one of the Black Hand. Nobody's fooled.
  • Taking You with Me: Alexei's plan. He plants a bomb on the train, all for the sake of killing Count Obelensky. The fact this will kill not only innocent people, but also himself, doesn't seem to concern him.
  • Tap on the Head: Robert is knocked out by a crowbar hit to the head and wakes up later with no injuries.
  • Those Two Girls: Rebecca and Sophie, who have nothing to do with the plot but love to talk about everything. If the game ends early, you get an excerpt from Rebecca's journal, explaining what happened to that mysteriously handsome man.
  • Thriller on the Express: A group of international terrorists and anarchists take over the train.
  • Traintop Battle: Two of them, in fact. One is unarmed vs. crowbar, and the other is sword vs. crowbar.
  • Unexpected Gameplay Change: The fight scenes are basically quicktime events that require the player to block, dodge, and hit at just the right times.
  • Vasquez Always Dies: The only females who die in the game (in the good ending) are also the least feminine. Except Tatiana, but that's because she blows herself up.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist:
    • Alexei is a radical, revolutionary anarchist who tries to blow up the whole train just to kill Count Obelensky, even taking himself and innocent people with him. But he always believes what he is doing is for the greater good and truly loves Tatiana.
    • To a lesser extent, the Serbs. Despite their violent tendencies and takeover of the train, they (or at least Milos) justify it as part of their plan to drive the Austrians out of Bosnia.
  • Western Terrorists: The Black Hand, Serbian nationalists. Alexei Dolnikov, Russian nihilist/anarchist. Cath himself is a fugitive for at least his involvement with the IRB; though his only crime there was treating their injured… or so George diplomatically concedes. It's not clear if that's what happened or if that would become the "official story" if Cath took his offer to ally himself with British interests; either way, the offer isn't taken.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: To Murder on the Orient Express, naturally. Apart from taking place on the Orient Express and climaxing in the Balkans, several characters are also homages to suspects from the book, such as Count Obelensky (to Princess Dragomiroff). Provided the police found Tyler's body on the tracks, Abbot even says he can't believe that there's been "a murder on the Orient Express".
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Discussed in a dialogue between Cath and Schmidt.
    Cath: Where do the Fatherland's interests lie in arming a band of Serbian terrorists?
    Schmidt: "Terrorists?" You surprise me. I had thought you would at least keep up the pretense of sympathy with the group that is paying you.
    Cath: I never said I wasn't sympathetic. I said they were terrorists.
  • You Wouldn't Shoot Me: After Cath pushes the train on through the Austrian/Serbian border:
    Anna: (points gun at Cath) We're still within the Austrian Empire. In the name of the emperor, I order you to stop the train! Do you think I won't shoot you?
    Cath: Go ahead!
    Anna: (looks and sees them approaching the border) Now you've done it. Damn you.

The Orient Express service between Paris and Istanbul was stopped by the outbreak of World War in July 1914.
It did not run again until May 1932.